Foliage Freaks

Regular readers know I anxiously suffer through this time of the year, for it is the time when I am confronted with the chore of clearing leaves from my yard and thus putting my life in danger.

The thing that really galls me is these smelly, rotting, pest infested piles are somehow viewed in a mostly favorable light by society.

“From bright yellows to vibrant reds, the leaves transform, showing their rich and vibrant hues . . .” This quote comes from the Foliage Network. Yes, believe it or not, there is a Foliage Network.

Let me digress here. What kind of depraved human being, what sort of lonely perverted malcontent, what manner of catatonic loser watches this network?

I can offer rare insight, because in the prime of my manhood I took on the foliage beast, wrestled with it, and though scarred and wounded, I made it back to tell the tale.

My girlfriend at the time, armed with the Fall Foliage Prediction Map (yes, really), planned a weeklong vacation for us.

First of all, a word about vacation: I enjoy going to very expensive hotels, getting room service, and watching pay TV.

I live in New York. I saw the Empire State building — once. I saw the Statue of Liberty — from the ferry. I saw the Eiffel Tower on TV — I didn’t feel the need to ogle it for a week.

Even though my family is from Sag Harbor, I’ve only been in the Whaling Museum once. The back-story is I met a gorgeous babe in the bar a night earlier and she had her heart set on going to the museum. Though I insisted Baron’s Cove Inn would be a far better place to visit, she opted for the museum. Go figure.

Put another way, I fervently believe if you’ve seen one dead leaf you’ve seen them all.

Acadia National Park in Maine is the Graceland of foliage freaks. That’s where we were headed — Acadia.

On our journey to Maine, we stopped at a dozen places marked on the foliage map. People — and there were dozens — followed the same route. They had cameras and binoculars and weird hats and they stared incessantly into the sky. I felt like a bird watcher. Every once in a while I’d say something like, “I declare, I believe I’ve sighted a Yellow Bellied Prune Finch! Oh in yonder Northern sky, a three-clawed Warbling Free Bird!”

Let’s face it, I was bored, plus I didn’t fit in with the others so, like a petulant child not allowed in the activity room, I’d try to disrupt others. “Oh look a gaggle of dead leaves!” I’d exclaim. No one would answer. “Oh, it’s a brace of them!” I’d persist. Nothing. Finally, I’d go sit in the car and listen to music (talk about being a savage, we didn’t even have Sirius then.)

The funny thing was when we got home from the vacation from hell our yard was filled — and I mean filled — with leaves. People need to understand this is where mold and mildew fester, ticks spend the winter, opossum bed down, and rats plot ratty things.

“You’ll have to get rid of them,” my girlfriend informed me.

“I’m not done looking at them,” I answered with a straight face. “There’s a whole cackle of ’em out there.”

Here is the premise: You don’t need a map. You don’t need to go to the national park. In fact, you can lie on your couch and see the full spectrum of colors including brown, dirty orange brown, rotty tan, tan rotty brown, dark mossy brown, moss brown rot, burnt amber red, and tangerine — oh wait, that’s the color of my cashmere sweater (I have puce, too).

I do have to admit, though, that deep down, there is one place I’ve always yearned to go, some place I feel would heal my shattered soul. I would drive down the middle of Beale and out Elvis Presley Drive and and I would ask, “Excuse me, did Elvis ever rake those leaves over there? Did Elvis ever take too many pills and pass out in that pile?”

I do believe I would be received in Graceland.

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

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